28 posts tagged “neurological”

Talking brain donation with Dr. Deborah Mash

Posted September 1st, 2015 by

Dr. Deborah Mash is a professor of neurology and molecular/cellular pharmacology at the University of Miami School of Medicine. She’s also the director of the university’s Brain Endowment Bank, and she recently spoke with PatientsLikeMe about her research and exactly what goes into donating your brain to science. As she says, “we still know very little about that which makes us uniquely human” – read her Q&A interview below.

What led you to study diseases of the brain? 

The brain is the next biologic frontier. We have learned more about the human brain in the past twenty years than throughout all of human history. And, we still know very little about that which makes us uniquely human – our brain. I was always very interested in the anatomy and the chemistry of the brain and in disease-related Neuroscience. I consider it a privilege to study the human brain in health and disease.

How would you explain the process of brain donation to PatientsLikeMe members who might be new or uncomfortable with the idea of donating this organ to science?

Brain donation is no different than donating other organs after death. Organ and tissue donations can give life or sight to another person. Transplanted tissues are used in surgeries to repair damaged bones and joints. And these donated tissues are also important for research studies to advance best practices that are used by doctors. The gift of a brain donation supports research studies that will bring about new treatments, better diagnosis and ultimately cures for disorders of the human brain like Alzheimer’s disease, Autism, ALS, schizophrenia and depression, drug and alcohol addiction, bipolar disorder, and multiple sclerosis to name a few.

A brain donation does not interfere or delay a family’s plans for the funeral, burial or cremation. There is no cost to the family to make this final gift.

What brain bank research would you most like to share with the PatientsLikeMe community? Our ALS, MS, Parkinson’s and mental health members might be interested to hear about brain bank research for their conditions.

Studies of the human brain have led to seminal discoveries including the loss of dopamine neurons in Parkinson’s disease and the association of beta amyloid with Alzheimer’s disease. Without examining the human brain after death, these discoveries could not have happened. Medications for Parkinson’s disease were advanced because scientists identified the loss of dopamine that causes many of the symptoms.

We have new technology that provides an unprecedented opportunity to rapidly examine large-scale gene expression of human brain for the first time. This powerful approach can facilitate understanding the molecular pathogenesis of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that is usually fatal in five years. Motor neurons in ALS undergo degeneration, causing secondary muscle atrophy and weakness. Studies of ALS in human brain are beginning to identify multiple processes involved in the pathogenesis of ALS.

We have yet to fully understand the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS).

This disease is different for everyone who has it. The symptoms it causes and when they flare up is different not only between people but also throughout one person’s life. This makes the diagnosis difficult and complicates treatment. The science behind MS is slowed because there are too few brains donated for research. We get many more requests for well-characterized MS cases and too few brain specimens are available to support the research. This lack of donated brains from MS patients is a barrier for MS research.

Examining the brain after death is important to understand how well experimental treatments are working in clinical trials to see if the drug did what it was supposed to do. An autopsy follow-up on 13 patients from a recent Alzheimer’s drug trial showed that although the drug had cleared the beta amyloid protein, it hadn’t changed the course of the disease — an incredibly important observation needed to advance the direction of Alzheimer’s disease research. The same is true for anyone who participates in clinical trials for any brain disorder.

When you ask people (or their family members) to consider donating their brain to UMBEB or another brain bank, what do you want them to know?

A brain donation is a final gift that contributes to the health and well being of the next generation – your children and grandchildren. It is a very special endowment that lives on by advancing research that can lead to the next scientific breakthrough.

People who want to be organ donors typically sign a card letting others know their wishes, but brain donations require an additional pledge card. This is not always well promoted. How can PatientsLikeMe members who are interested in brain donation obtain the special brain donation pledge cards?

It is important to make your wish known by registering in advance. We make it an easy process and provide donor registration cards for your wallet. You can share this information with your family and friends. You can request information or become a registered donor by visiting us online at http://brainbank.med.miami.edu or call 1-800-UM-Brain.

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“I can see that there actually is help here.” – JustinSingleton shares his experiences with PTS

Posted August 21st, 2015 by

JustinSingleton is an Army veteran who recently joined PatientsLikeMe back in June, and he’s been exploring the veteran’s community ever since. This month, he wrote about his experiences in an interview, and below, you can read what he had to say about getting diagnosed with PTS, managing his triggers and the importance of connecting and sharing with fellow service members. 

Can you give us a little background about your experience in the military?

In 1998, I joined the Ohio Army National Guard as an Indirect Fire Infantryman – the guy that shoots the mortars out of a big tube. For six years I trained on a mortar gun, but after being called back into the Army (I left in 2004), I was assigned to an Infantry Reconnaissance platoon, and I had no idea what I was doing. Before heading to Iraq, we trained together as a platoon for six months – learning not only the trade, but to trust each other with our lives.

It wasn’t until March 2006 that we arrived in Iraq, and I was assigned to the Anbar Province, which at the time was rated as the worst province of the nation. I was deployed in the time leading up to the need for “the surge.” As we drove the highways of the Anbar, we were shot at, mortared, and bombed. Intelligence even found “wanted” posters of one of our vehicles (we named it Chuck Norris).

When were you diagnosed with PTS?

I wasn’t diagnosed with PTS until many years after the war (I tried to “fix” myself), but the traumatic events are actually multiple, including receiving indirect fire on what was supposed to be my last mission – just a week or so after two good friends were evacuated after being maimed for life.

What have you done to manage your symptoms of PTS?

At the beginning, I refused medicines – I thought I was strong enough to beat it on my own. I worked with a VA counselor before moving for a semester. While there, I worked with a university student/counselor, but nothing was really helping. Finally, I went to my Primary Care Physician and told her that I needed more. The VA psychiatrist tested some medicines, but one needed to be changed (this is normal). Finally, the combination of medicine and individual therapy created within me a sense of “I might make it.”

You joined PatientsLikeMe in June 2015.  As a newer member, what do you think of the veteran’s and PTS communities?

I joined this community because although I feel better than before, I still need the help of others. I can see that there actually is help here.

You’ve mentioned in the forum that your triggers seem to be non-combat related – can you describe your triggers?

In one of the forums I mentioned my triggers. These, to me, are odd. Bridges, garbage on the side of the road, and even a midnight stroll have triggered panic attacks or anxiety. Often, simply being in a grocery store too long causes anxiety to the point that I take a quarter of Ativan, squeeze my fists or the cart, and head to the door or checkout (whether finished or not). While this has caused an impairment in life, it has never been “the end” of life. These are objects on my road to a healthy living – objectives to be conquered.

Although there is a prevalent idea in the Armed Forces that a man/woman should never ask for help or ever see a physician, I have found that to be a rather juvenile view on life. The greatest thing a veteran facing PTS or anxiety can do is not try to face it alone. We are a community, a brotherhood, and only together with a good doctor can we ever hope to survive.

What advice do you have for other military members who may be experiencing PTS and related conditions?

Twenty-three of our brothers and sisters quit every day. I refuse to be a part of that statistic.

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Q & A with Mary Ann Singersen, Co-Founder/President of the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation

Posted August 14th, 2015 by

In 1998, Stephen Heywood, the brother of our co-founders Ben and Jamie, and friend of Jeff Cole, was diagnosed with ALS. They immediately went to work trying to find new ways to slow Stephen’s progression, and after 6 years of trial and error, they built PatientsLikeMe in 2004.

Mary Ann Singersen also has family experience with the neurological condition. Her father, Edward, was diagnosed two years before Stephen, and she co-founded the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation, now a partner of ours here at PatientsLikeMe. Mary Ann recently sat down for a blog interview and spoke about her inspiration to start the organization, her philosophy about ALS and what advice she would have for anyone living, or caring for someone, with ALS.

Can you share with our followers how your own family’s experience with ALS inspired you to start the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation? 

My father, Edward Sciaba Sr., was diagnosed with ALS in 1995. Going through this ordeal really opened my eyes to the plight of not only the patients but their families as well. In 1998 he lost his battle with ALS.

Our Co-Founder Donna Jordan also lost her brother Cliff Jordan Jr. to ALS the same year. (Our “Cliff Walk” is named for him).

We met through volunteering in the ALS community and thought that since we already had the Walk in Cliff’s name, we would like to be sure that the funds raised were used to help patients with their financial and emotional needs. We also wanted to further research efforts so we donate a portion to ALSTDI and UMASS Memorial Medical.

Donna and I went on to co-found the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation and we pride ourselves on our ability to put patients and their needs first. We offer many in-house programs that help with family vacations, day trips, respite, utility bills, back to school and holiday shopping, college scholarships for children of patients, etc. At this time, our programs are restricted in that they are available to New England area residents only.

We know you have your biggest event of the year – The 19th Annual “Cliff Walk” For A.L.S. – coming up on September 13. Can you share some more information about the event and its history? How can people get involved?

My co-founder and friend Donna Jordan’s brother Cliff was diagnosed with ALS at 34 years of age and he wanted to do something to support research efforts, so he held a walk on the Cape Cod Canal and 60 people came and raised $4,000.

Every year since then, the Walk has grown and grown. Last year, we welcomed 1,500 participants and raised over $220,000.

The “Cliff Walk®” is a seven mile walk along the Cape Cod Canal followed by live musical entertainment, fun activities for the whole family and lots of great food! If folks wish to come to the Walk we ask them to download a pledge sheet or make an online fundraising page.

On your website you say, “Until there is a cure…there is the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation.” Where do you and the organization see research focused in the future? What’s the next step? 

I can only say that I hope with all the funds raised by ALS organizations around the world and with the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, there just has to be a cure on the way. In the meantime, we are here to help in any way we can.

We’re thrilled to be a partner of the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation. How do you think those living with ALS can benefit from PatientsLikeMe? How can PatientsLikeMe ALS members benefit from the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation? 

PatientsLikeMe is a great resource for anyone living with any condition – not just ALS. It’s also great for caregivers. ALS patients more than any other condition are online researching their symptoms, what helps, what doesn’t. They and their collaboration with each other may hold the key to better treatment options and someday maybe a cure.

Our Foundation prides itself on putting patients and their needs first. Our services are open to New England area residents and include granting funds to help with equipment, bills, respite services, college scholarships to children of patients, vacations, day trips, back to school and holiday expenses and any other needs we are able to meet. So please if you or a loved one have ALS and live in New England contact us for assistance. Call Debbie Bell our Patient Services Coordinator at 781-217-5480, email her at debbellals@aol.com or call our office at 508-759-9696 or email alsfamily@aol.com.

We also wish to find a cure for our loved ones living with ALS, so we fund research efforts at ALS TDI and UMASS Memorial Medical Center.

From your own personal experiences, what advice would you give to someone living with ALS, and to his or her family members and friends? 

Take help anywhere you can get it. Don’t ever feel like you shouldn’t ask because someone who needs it more will be denied, or because you have received help from another organization. Funds we and other organizations raise are for you and people like you.

If you or a loved one has ALS and live in the New England area, visit the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation website for more information and to request assistance.”

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Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Kitty

Posted June 18th, 2015 by

Kitty represents the mental health community on the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors, and she’s always ready to extend a helping hand. She’s a social worker who specializes in working with children in foster care, and below, she shares how her own journey with major depressive disorder (MDD) has helped her truly connect with and understand the needs of both her patients and others.

About Kitty (aka jackdzone):
Kitty has a master’s degree in marriage, family and child therapy and has worked extensively with abused, neglected and abandoned children in foster care as a social worker. She joined PatientsLikeMe and was thrilled to find people with the same condition who truly understand what she’s going through. She lost her job as a result of her MDD, which was a difficult time for her. Kitty is very attuned to the barriers those with mental health conditions might face, and has great perspective about how to be precise with language to help people feel safe and not trigger any bad feelings. Kitty is passionate about research being conducted with the patient’s well-being at the forefront, and believes patient centeredness means talking with patients from the very beginning by conducting patient surveys and finding out what patients’ unmet needs are.

Kitty on patient centeredness:
“To me, it means that it’s all about the patient from start to finish. In the beginning, it’s talking with patients, conducting patient surveys and reading any written material that would be helpful in order to find out what patients are most wanting and needing and not getting. In healthcare, this would translate to a doctor engaging with a patient in a way that is especially helpful for the patient. This may require asking a question a certain way in order for the patient to answer truthfully and to feel that their doctor really cares about them as a person. (I was fortunate enough to have had one primary doctor like this for many years and it makes a huge difference!) It puts the focus on that particular patient at that moment and requires empathy and understanding (and not just going through the motions) in determining what is best for that patient.

In the area of research, the same is true. Research of this kind is done to improve the client’s physical and/or mental life in some way. Any research should be done with the patient’s well being at the forefront. Questions should be asked in a way that will lead the client to be very open about their experiences. The client should be fully informed regarding any research in which they participate and be asked at the end if there is anything that has not been covered that they have questions about. They should be informed of the results of the research afterwards and perhaps be allowed to give their thoughts about the findings.”

Kitty on being part of the Team of Advisors:
“A year ago, when I read that PatientsLikeMe was putting together a Team of Advisors, I didn’t hesitate to apply. I wanted to be part of something that had helped me a great deal during a part of my life when I was the most depressed and struggling. When I was eventually chosen to be on the team, I was and have continued to be very honored. I feel such a strong affiliation with PatientsLikeMe and want to be able to help others in anyway that I can. During this past year, I’ve been able to participate in helping to compose a patients’ rights handbook and be interviewed by a researcher regarding how patients view clinical trials. Being on the Team of Advisors has given me the chance to become an advocate for myself and others. It is something that means a lot to me and something that I enjoy doing–and I think it’s something I will continue to do in whatever capacity I can throughout my life.”

Kitty on helping others:
“From the very first day that I joined PatientsLikeMe several years ago, the website has meant a great deal to me. Most of the people in my life did not really understand what I was going through. At times, they thought I really could have done more, but that I was just being lazy. When you are suffering from MDD, this viewpoint from others only increases your depression. I didn’t know where to turn. What I found on PatientsLikeMe were others who were also suffering from MDD and were experiencing the same symptoms and challenges as myself. As I began posting on the site about what I was going through and how depressed I was feeling, I felt somewhat better just by being able to express myself and even more so when others with MDD began reaching out to me with advice and encouragement. I can really say that this made all the difference to me in the world.

After awhile, I made it a point to also reach out to encourage others. I noticed that some people seemed to be very depressed on a daily basis with very little hope and I felt I had to reach out to them in some way. I began responding to their posts. A lot of times I just said that I was sorry that they were feeling bad, as I didn’t know what else to say. I hoped that just this much would encourage them. I didn’t want to be overly upbeat if that wasn’t how they seemed to be feeling, because I felt this was a disservice to them. I felt that the more I could just be there for them right where they were and with how they were feeling the more I could be of help.”

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Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Letitia

Posted June 12th, 2015 by

You might recognize Letitia from her Patient Voice video and her PIPC guest blog, but did you know she’s also a member of the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors? Below, read what she had to say about living with epilepsy, her views on patient centeredness and all of her advocacy work.

About Letitia (aka Letitia81):
Letitia is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Florida and a National Certified Counselor specializing in mental health and marriage and family issues, who was diagnosed with epilepsy at a young age. Letitia consulted with doctors across different disciplines both nationally and internationally and did not find an effective treatment until she found out about epileptologists on PatientsLikeMe. Through consultations, she realized she was a good candidate for brain surgery and she underwent left temporal lobectomy August 16, 2012 and has been seizure free ever since. She successfully weaned herself off of Keppra this month under her doctor’s supervision.

Letitia is very passionate about giving back to others, and recently met a young epileptic girl and inspired her to undergo the same life changing surgery, and so far she’s met with great results. In addition to helping the young girl and her family, people contact her regularly from all over to consult about their or a loved one’s seizure condition and she’s always willing and delighted to help. Letitia is passionate about research and believes in the power of research to positively change the quality of life (mind, body and spirit), for those living with epilepsy and other chronic conditions.

Letitia on patient centeredness:
“It means that the treatment is individualized based on the patient’s (or research participant’s) unique condition/situation as well as their opinions regarding their health.”

Letitia on the Team of Advisors:
“Being a part of the team of advisors has been an invaluable experience! It has allowed me to work with other “rock star” patient advisors and PatientsLikeMe staff that are just as passionate as I am about changing health care, including research to be more patient-centered for all patients. This experience has also given me exposure that I did not imagine before to share my story, encourage, and inspire patients and caregivers. Additionally, I have been able to network with professionals from many disciplines about the value of the patients’ voice! I have heard from many patients and caregivers from different parts of the country and the world! They reached out to me with questions, for guidance, to thank me for sharing my story, and to share their stories with me. I am so humbled that they felt comfortable sharing their stories with me and looked to me as an “expert” for advice. I guess I should not be too surprised by this since I am not only a patient that can relate to their experience, but I am also a professional counselor. I have been blessed with the gift of showing empathy and compassion to others in my career. Finally, this experience, particularly working on the best practice guide for researchers fits nicely into my current professional endeavor of pursuing a Ph.D. in counselor education, with an emphasis on counseling and social change. Social change involves advocacy and creating innovative ways to improve humanity!”

Letitia on advocacy:
“I am very passionate about advocacy work! Advocacy has been a huge focal point in my role as a professional counselor. I am currently a clinical manager for a large mental health and substance abuse agency and I teach and mentor my staff about the importance of advocacy work. Advocacy is one of the many reasons I stay involved as a patient on the PatientsLikeMe website. Additionally, I have been able to partner with other organizations such as Partnership to Improve Patient Care (PIPC) and the US News & World Report to share my story with diverse audiences. Ultimately, these experiences have allowed me to help other patients and caregivers see the value of advocacy in patient-centered health care, and I am so grateful to be a part of this powerful movement!”

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Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Charles

Posted June 8th, 2015 by

We’ll be featuring three Team of Advisors introductions on the blog this month, and first up is Charles, a veteran Army Ranger who is also living with MS. Below, Charles shared about his military background, his thoughts on patient centeredness and how he’s found his second family in the Team of Advisors.

About Charles (aka CharlesD):
Charles has a diverse background. He served three years in the US Army 75th Ranger Regiment parachuting from the back of C-130 and C-141 aircraft. He built audio/video/computer systems for Bloomberg Business News. He worked as an application systems engineer in banking, as a computer engineer at the White House Executive Office of the President (EOP), and as a principal systems engineer for the US Navy Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) program. He is currently a contractor providing document imaging Subject Matter Expertise (SME) to the IRS. Charles was diagnosed with MS in July of 2013. MS runs in his family on his mother’s Irish side – he has one uncle and two male cousins with MS.

Charles on patient centeredness:
With experience in website design, Charles believes patient centeredness is a lot like user centeredness when designing a web site or a portal: “Information is organized according to the patient (or the user’s) view of the world. Questions that the patient most needs answered are listed front and center. The design is based on addressing the needs of the patients (users). Info is organized cleanly and logically with possible visual impairments, color perception problems, and cognitive issues of patients (users) always in mind. Research should focus on areas that will make the most difference to the patients. Ask them. Survey them. Get to know the ‘voice of the patient’ just like we look to capture the ‘voice of the customer’ in user-centric design.”

Charles’ military background:
“I joined the US Army in 1986. I did basic training and AIT at Fort Jackson, SC. After that I was off to 3 weeks of jump school at Fort Benning, GA. Then I went to the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP) again at Benning. I was then assigned to HHC 75th Ranger Regiment.

I spent 3 years with the 75th training for a lot of pretty cool missions. We trained a lot for airfield seizures. Basically parachute onto a foreign airport or airfield, wipe out all resistance, take the tower, and make way for our big planes to land shortly after. We had early generation night vision goggles (NVGs). I drove a Hummer full of Rangers off the back tail ramp of a pitch black C-130 that was still rolling after touchdown while wearing NVGs. They were no help at all inside the plane since they only amplify existing light. If you are pitch black you are still blind. It is a wonder that I did not kill anyone or damage the C-130 that night.

So I joined up right after Grenada and I got out right before Panama. I never saw any combat. These days I volunteer my time with, and financially support, a veterans group called gallantfew (www.gallantfew.org), started by retired Ranger Major Karl Monger.”

Charles on being part of the Team of Advisors:
“Being on the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors has been a wonderful privilege and an excellent opportunity for me. As a person with a brain disease, it is not always comfortable talking with others about my illness. When the Team of Advisors first met up together in Boston, I knew that I had found my second family. I was together in a room where every single person there was struggling with one or more diseases, many of which can be fatal. In fact, one of our team members, Brian, died after serving for only a few months. It was such a warm and welcoming environment. All of us were able to speak openly with each other and with PatientsLikeMe staff and we were heard. Each story, no matter how painful, resonated with the whole group.

All of us in the first PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors shared many of the same goals. We are an extremely diverse group, but we all bonded immediately. What we want is to help conquer the diseases that have caused problems in all of our lives. We want to improve the relationship between researchers and the patient community. We want to help health care providers to better understand the patient perspective. And we want to make the world a better place for the next generation and for all generations to come. PatientsLikeMe embraces those goals and we embrace PatientsLikeMe. Together we are taking on all diseases.”

Charles on healthcare for veterans:
“As a veteran, health care issues are very important to me. I have seen so many veterans return home with wounds to body and mind. Many are shattered and have no idea what to do with themselves next. Some turn to drugs and alcohol, others to fast motorcycles or weapons. Suicide is rampant among newly returned veterans. The VA is woefully underfunded to take on the mission of supporting wounded and traumatized veterans. In the halls of Congress, the VA is seen as a liability, an unfunded mandate. Many veterans are denied the coverage they so desperately need. Many active duty service members are forced out with other than honorable discharges for suffering from PTSD or TBI. This limits the liability of the VA to support the veteran after separation. A good friend of mine who died recently put it this way. He said to me, ‘The military operates on the beer can theory of human resources. Picture a couple of good old boys out for a good time. They go down to the local liquor store and grab a nice cold six pack of beer. They go down to the lake, they each pop the top and they each start chugging a wonderful ice-cold beer. When they get through the first beer, they crush the can and throw it away. They grab another and another until the beers are all gone.’

I didn’t understand how this related to the military. He explained, ‘The brand new ice-cold beer is like a new recruit. The military sucks everything they can out of the person until all that is left is the empty shell. Then they toss that out and go grab another one just like the last one.’

We don’t deserve a health care system that treats returning veterans as empty shells. We can do better, but the current system is clear reflection of the value system at play in Congress. Funding for weapons programs are highly protected. Funding for the people who wielded those weapons systems is not. My answer may seem a bit cynical, but that is how I see the current state of affairs.”

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Migraine: More than just a headache

Posted June 5th, 2015 by

June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, but isn’t a migraine just a bad headache? Nope. People like Cindy McCain (wife of Senator John McCain) and 36 million Americans living with migraines will tell you otherwise. And this month, those 36 million are raising awareness and dispelling the stigma around migraines.

Headaches can have many causes – dehydration, loud noises, and even feelings of stress or anxiety can trigger pain behind our eyes and forehead. So what makes migraines different? They can still be triggered by things like intense light, noise, or certain foods, but migraines are inherited neurological disorders. They can last a long time, sometimes hours.1 Migraines can also be accompanied by auras (a visual or auditory perception that a migraine is about to strike).

The people living with migraines in the US are who inspired Cindy McCain to organize the 36 Million Migraine campaign. Listen to her share her experiences with migraines on The Today Show:

 

 

If you’ve ever experienced a migraine, you’re not alone – over 7,500 people are living with migraines on PatientsLikeMe. Many have shared what triggers their migraines and how they manage the pain – join the community to share your experiences, questions and answers with those who know what you’re going through.

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1 http://www.americanmigrainefoundation.org/about-migraine/


Wrapping up Seeing [MS]: The invisible symptoms

Posted June 1st, 2015 by

Here’s a question we asked last year – how do you explain multiple sclerosis to those who don’t understand? And here are a few answers:

“I’m burnt alive every day.”
“A single bead of sweat can bring me to my knees.”
“I can be struck down in just seconds.”

Over the past year, we’ve been featuring quotes, pictures and videos from the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Australia’s (MSA) Seeing [MS] campaign, which is all about visualizing the invisible symptoms of MS and raising awareness for the neurological condition. We’ve covered nine symptoms: blurred vision, pain, hot and cold, spasticity, dizziness, fatigue, brain fog, balance and numbness. If you missed anything, watch the video below for a full recap.

While there may be no more Seeing [MS] photographs, there will always be more symptoms, experiences and knowledge to share to help raise awareness for all things MS. There are more than 39,000 people living with MS on PatientsLikeMe, and many have contributed their own symptoms to the Seeing [MS] forum thread. If you’ve been diagnosed with MS, visit the community today. And a very special thanks to the patients and photographers whose hard work made Seeing [MS] possible.


Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Steve

Posted May 29th, 2015 by

A few weeks ago, Amy shared about living with a rare genetic disease in her Team of Advisors introduction post. Today, it’s Steve’s turn to share about his unique perspective as a scientist who has been diagnosed with ALS. Below, learn about Steve’s experience with ALS research, his views on patient centeredness and what being a part of the Team of Advisors means to him.

About Steve (aka rezidew):
Steve is a professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was diagnosed with ALS in the fall of 2013 and his symptoms have progressed with increased debilitating weakness in his arms and hands. He was excited to join us as an advisor to lend his expertise on research methodology to the team. He has authored or coauthored an impressive 6 books, 91 peer reviewed publications, and 26 published chapters. When we talked about giving a background on research methods to the team, Steve said ‘I can teach it.’ He is passionate about helping teach others and believes “as a scientist who has been diagnosed with ALS, I regret having this disorder but I am eager to use my unique perspective to promote and possibly conduct relevant research.”

Steve’s view of patient centeredness:
“The obvious perspective is that patients should have some voice in decisions regarding what research should be conducted, what the participants in research should be expected to do, how participants in research should be selected, and how results of research should be communicated.”

Steve on being part of the Team of Advisors:
“Being a member of the Team of Advisors has helped me understand a wide array of perspectives on patient-centered research based on my interaction with fellow patients who have various health problems and who have various levels of knowledge about research. I am impressed with the consensual consolidation that has emerged from the Team’s dialogue about research.”

Steve’s experience with bibrachial ALS and research on ALS:
“A diagnosis of ALS can be associated with several different configurations of symptoms. Some PALS (Patients with ALS) begin with problems in their feet and legs, some begin with difficulty talking and/or swallowing, and some, like me, begin with weakness in their hands and arms. Also, some PALS start relatively young and have other PALS in their family. And, some PALS have dementia. We all lose our ability to breathe eventually and our array of symptoms broadens, but our initial experience can be very different. I am surprised and disappointed that the medical community has not done more to identify our subtypes and to track our progression within our subtype.

Developing a PALS taxonomy would help doctors provide support to PALS that is most relevant to our needs. It would also help us share our experience with fellow patients and learn from each other. An ALS taxonomy would also be extremely relevant for research on treatments. Ongoing research on ALS using rodents with SOD1 mutations may yield an effective treatment someday, but for now PALS would feel more supportive of this research if it used models that reflect the different taxonomies of ALS. We would feel even more supportive if more research allowed us to participate in studies that focus directly on medicines that could help our ongoing progressive terminal illness.”

More about the 2014 Team of Advisors
They’re a group of 14 PatientsLikeMe members who will give feedback on research initiatives and create new standards that will help all researchers understand how to better engage with patients like them. They’ve already met one another in person, and over the next 12 months, will give feedback to our own PatientsLikeMe Research Team. They’ll also be working together to develop and publish a guide that outlines standards for how researchers can meaningfully engage with patients throughout the entire research process.

So where did we find our 2014 Team? We posted an open call for applications in the forums, and were blown away by the response! The Team includes veterans, nurses, social workers, academics and advocates; all living with different conditions.

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Seeing [MS]: The invisible symptoms – numbness

Posted May 22nd, 2015 by

“When I woke up, my hands were gone.”

That’s how Adriana Grasso described the numbness she experiences as part of her MS. It’s so severe that she doesn’t even know what it feels like to hold someone’s hand. As she says, “A simple thing that we take for granted – touch – it’s gone, and there is a barrier there.” Listen to Adriana speak about her symptom below:

You are now seeing numbness

Photographed by Nicholas Walton-Healey
Inspired by Adriana Grasso’s invisible symptoms

Adriana worked with photographer Nicholas Walton-Healey to portray her numbness in a picture and video. Their work is part of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Australia’s (MSA) Seeing [MS] campaign, which is all about recognizing the invisible symptoms of MS and raising awareness for the neurological condition. Check out the previous pictures and stay tuned for more Seeing [MS] posts.

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Coming together for immunological and neurological health in May

Posted May 12th, 2015 by

If you follow PatientsLikeMe on social media, you might have seen a few “Pop Quiz Tuesday” posts. Today, here’s a special pop quiz – what do fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) have in common?

The answer is that they are classified as Chronic Immunological and Neurological Diseases (CINDs). And since 1992, every May 12th has been recognized as International Awareness Day for CINDs. Today, in conjunction with Fibromyalgia Awareness Month, it’s time to recognize everyone living with a CIND.

While fibromyalgia and ME/CFS are both CINDs, each is a little different. Check out some quick facts about each condition:

Fibromyalgia1

  • Affects 5 million Americans over the age of 18, and the majority are women
  • The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown
  • Common symptoms include insomnia, headaches, pain and tingling in the hands and feet

ME/CFS2

  • Affects between 836,000 to 2.5 million Americans
  • The large majority of people living with ME/CFS have not been diagnosed
  • There are five main symptoms of ME/CFS, as opposed to the more general symptoms of fibromyalgia:
    • Profound fatigue that impairs carrying out normal daily activities
    • Unrefreshing sleep
    • Cognitive impairment
    • Symptoms that worsen when a person stands up
    • Symptoms that worsen after exerting any type (emotional, physical) effort

But sometimes, living with a CIND can be hard to describe. Check out this short video to get an idea of the invisible symptoms of ME/CFS.

Today, you can share your support for fibromyalgia and ME/CFS on social media through the #May12th, #Fibromyalgia and #MECFS hashtags. If you have a chance, you should incorporate the color blue into your activities, anything from changing the background on your Facebook to shining a blue light on your house at nighttime.

And if you’ve been diagnosed with a CIND, join the community at PatientsLikeMe. The fibromyalgia community is one of the largest on the site – over 59,000 people are sharing their experiences, along with more than 11,000 living with ME/CFS.

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1 http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/fibromyalgia/fibromyalgia_ff.asp

2 https://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2015/MECFS/MECFS_KeyFacts.pdf


PatientsLikeMe study monitors walking activity in people with MS

Posted April 15th, 2015 by

          

Cambridge, MA, April 15, 2015—PatientsLikeMe today announced results of a novel study conducted with Biogen that showed how people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) can use wearable activity tracking devices to collect and share their mobility data, which could potentially provide relevant information to their clinicians and to other MS patients. These data are being presented at the 67th American Academy of Neurology’s (AAN) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC April 18-25.

“MS impairs the ability to walk for many people with MS, yet we only assess walking ability in the limited time a patient is in the doctor’s office,” said Richard Rudick, MD, vice president, Value Based Medicine, Biogen. “Consumer devices can measure number of steps, distance walked, and sleep quality on a continuous basis in a person’s home environment. These data could provide potentially important information to supplement office visit exams.”

The study was designed to assess the feasibility of using a consumer wearable device to monitor activity among people with MS in a real-world setting. In it, 248 PatientsLikeMe members were provided with Fitbit One™ activity trackers. Of those who received them, 213 (82%) activated the device with the Fitbit website and authorized PatientsLikeMe to access their data. Two-hundred and three of those who authorized sharing of the data synchronized the device with the service and produced tracking data. Participants synced an average 18.21 days of data over the 21-day study (87% adherence).

Paul Wicks, PhD, Vice President of Innovation at PatientsLikeMe, said that advances in wearable health technology have the potential to shed light on disease characteristics. “PatientsLikeMe is in a unique position to combine self-reported data with objective measurement and help patients and researchers learn more to impact self discovery and research.”

The three-week study had a lasting impact on its participants, who together took a total of 15 million steps and walked 6,820 miles, the distance from Boston to Beijing. “I got positive reinforcement to do more each day, and that really encouraged me,” said Annette Smiling, a PatientsLikeMe member and study participant who had never used a wearable activity tracker before. “The Fitbit also allowed me to track what I was eating and how I was sleeping. I made more positive choices as a result.”

After the study period, participants were surveyed to learn more about their study experiences and about their attitudes toward technology and physical activity tracking. Of the 191 participants who responded to the post-study survey, 88 percent reported the device was easy to use and incorporate into their daily routine; 83 percent agreed that they would continue to use the device after the study; and 68 percent believed that the device would be useful to them in managing their MS. Additional survey data is available at http://news.patientslikeme.com.

With more than 38,000 members, PatientsLikeMe’s MS community is the largest and most active MS research community online.

Study Design Methodology
A total of 248 PatientsLikeMe members living with MS were recruited to participate in a study deploying Fitbit One™ activity trackers. Information on patient demographics and level of self-reported functional disability were captured from the participants’ PatientsLikeMe profiles. Devices were mailed to participants with instructions on activation and authorization of data sharing between the manufacturer and PatientsLikeMe. As part of PatientsLikeMe’s member engagement framework, a live concierge service was available to participants to provide answers to technical and other questions. The study also took full advantage of the PatientsLikeMe platform and health tracking tools to engage participants with their data, and with each other. Study participants were able to track their physical activity levels on the PatientsLikeMe website and connect with each other in the MS discussion forum to talk about changing symptoms, benefits and issues. Data were collected for a period of three weeks, and patients were asked to complete a survey to provide feedback on their experiences with the device.

About PatientsLikeMe
PatientsLikeMe® (www.patientslikeme.com) is a patient network that improves lives and a real-time research platform that advances medicine. Through the network, patients connect with others who have the same disease or condition and track and share their own experiences. In the process, they generate data about the real-world nature of disease that help researchers, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, providers, and nonprofits develop more effective products, services and care. With more than 325,000 members, PatientsLikeMe is a trusted source for real-world disease information and a clinically robust resource that has published more than 60 peer-reviewed research studies. Visit us at www.patientslikeme.com or follow us via our blog, Twitter or Facebook.

Contact
Margot Carlson Delogne
(781) 492-1039
mcdelogne@patientslikeme.com


Seeing [MS]: The invisible symptoms – balance

Posted April 8th, 2015 by

Describing her loss of stability and balance is difficult for Carol Cooke. One moment, she might be walking, and the next, she’ll fall to the ground. As she says, “I just want to get up and keep going,” but that’s not possible due to the symptoms of her multiple sclerosis (MS). Listen to Carol speak about her MS below:

You are now seeing balance

Photographed by Andreas Smetana
Inspired by Carol Cooke’s invisible symptoms

To help others understand this, she worked with photographer Andreas Smetana to portray her MS symptom in the picture above. Her video and picture are part of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Australia’s (MSA) Seeing [MS] campaign, which is all about recognizing the invisible symptoms of MS and raising awareness for the neurological condition. Check out the previous pictures and stay tuned for more Seeing [MS] posts.

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“ALS is not for sissies.” – PatientsLikeMe member SuperScout shares about her journey with ALS

Posted March 30th, 2015 by

That’s what SuperScout likes to tell people when explaining her personal motto. She was diagnosed in 2009, and in a recent interview, she explained how she takes her life one day, and sometimes one hour, at a time. In her interview, she broke down what goes on during a typical visit to her ALS clinic, and shared how technology has been simultaneously frustrating and extremely helpful. Learn about her journey below.

When did you first experience symptoms of ALS?

In August 2008, I was attending a Girl Scout event. As we recited the Promise, I noticed my fingers weren’t making the sign correctly. Over the next few months, I began to lose the fine motor skills in my right hand. Writing was hard, & I started using my left hand for most things. I thought I had some form of carpal tunnel. I had NO pain, so I wasn’t concerned. In December 2008, I went to my family doctor for my annual check-up. I told him my problems & he sent me for an electroencephalogram (EEG). That began the series of tests that eventually led to my diagnosis in April 2009.

How did you feel after being officially diagnosed? And what was the first thing that went through your mind?

I don’t think I will ever forget that day. I suspected something unusual was going to happen because the technician at my second EEG commented that the neurologist must find my case interesting because normally, it’s difficult to get an appointment with him. He entered the exam room, sat down, and said, “I have bad news for you. You have Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” I was stunned, and asked if it would affect my longevity. He said yes, but couldn’t tell me how much. He asked if I had any questions, but I didn’t because I didn’t know much about it. Sure, I had heard of it, but didn’t know what it would do to me. I went home, and looked on the Internet for information on ALS. It was scary. The first thing through my mind was how it would change my life and that of my family. I was used to doing for others, now they would need to do for me.

You tell people “ALS is not for sissies.” Can you elaborate on that?

A sissy is defined as someone who is timid or cowardly. No one who has ALS can fit that definition. We all know it will shorten our life, and rob us of many functions we once took for granted. I really like the PSA Angela Lansbury did for ALS in 2008. She’s sitting on a stool, and a gun is fired. As the bullet races toward her, she describes what ALS does to the body, and ends by saying “There’s nothing you can do to stop it.” She asks for donations for the ALS Association (ALSA) stating that with this help those with ALS can do this: She rises and avoids the oncoming bullet. We all see the bullet, yet can’t do anything to stop it. Unlike other serious diseases, there are NO options for a treatment that will cure this disease that’s been described as horrific. However, every day we People with ALS (PALS) are fighting the daily battle to stay positive. Sometimes, it’s easy, sometimes, it’s hard. You take it one day at a time, or even just one hour at a time. That makes us BRAVE, and not sissies.

Take us through a typical visit to your ALS clinic – what’s the experience like?

Every 3 months, I visit the ALS clinic at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Once my weight is checked, I’m taken to an exam room, then the team of specialists each stop in to see me. In addition to the neurologist, I see a respiratory therapist, nurse, ALS representative, MDA representative, speech therapist, dietician, occupational therapist, physical therapist, social worker, & a pastoral care minister. They each make recommendations to help me have the best quality of life with ALS as possible. My family members are asked if they have any needs. Each room has a sign – “Have we answered all your questions?” About 1 week after my visit, I receive in the mail a summary of my visit with their recommendations. Prior to the visit, I also complete a Quality of Life survey, similar to the one on this website. Although lengthy (around 3 1/2 hours), I enjoy my visits because each person makes me feel important and they truly care about me.

How has technology helped you with your communication?

When I began using my Eyegaze Edge, I found it frustrating, but gradually got better at not moving my head and was able to be successful. Now, it is my sole means of communication. Before my caregiver arrives in the morning, I type out for her what I want for my meals, what channels I want to watch on TV, and any special information. My son says I sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher when I talk, so using my device is a necessity if I want to communicate. We even take it to Sunday School, so I can participate in our class discussions. My most favorite thing to do is connect to the internet. Sending emails is easy, and I go on Facebook, play games, read, Skype, shop, and do whatever I’m in the mood for. Once, when the camera broke, I was without it for a few days and I really missed it. I wound up grunting “Yes” or “No” to questions which was frustrating. Using technology to connect to others makes me feel I still have a purpose in life, and I have something worthwhile to contribute.

Finally, what’s the most positive surprise you’ve learned while living with ALS?

The most positive surprise I’ve learned while living with ALS is that I have more people thinking about me, and supporting me with their prayers, than I expected. I learned this during the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I began to see videos posted on my Facebook timeline of people participating in the Challenge in my honor. It warmed my heart to see them. They featured friends, former work colleagues, and some fellow Girl Scout volunteers. Many said how I’ve inspired them with my smile. It was never my intention to be an inspiration, but just to cope with ALS the best way I knew, with my faith in God and a sense of humor. Due to the Ice Bucket Challenge, the world now knew more about ALS, and money will be used to find a treatment and cure for ALS. I feel hopeful for the first time since my diagnosis.

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